December 30, 2008


The Good War? Maybe Not (Tom Bethell, December 2008-January 2009, American Spectator)

IN REVISITING THE PRELIMINARIES to World War II, I want to make one more point. Let’s pretend that we can rewrite history, this time without Chamberlain’s pledge. Now what happens? One possibility is that Hitler decides to move east and attack the Soviet Union. He was explicit in Mein Kampf that east was the most promising direction for German expansion, not west or south. And east was where he went anyway. Maybe, with a neutral Poland, an advance to the east would have meant the early end of the Soviet Union, or mutual destruction of the German and Russian armies.

But engaging in such speculation ensnares us in counterfactual history and, as you can readily see, it’s all guesswork. You can make it come out any way you want. Does this mean that we should avoid such speculation? Maybe. We certainly shouldn’t believe any of this subjunctive history. Perhaps it’s an interesting game but it won’t prove anything.

Notice, however, that those in the "good war” camp all along have engaged in just such counterfactual speculation. How so? Obviously they do not call World War II the good war because they believe that the terrible things that happened--50 million dead, including 6 million Jews--really were good. What they mean is that if the destruction of the Third Reich had not happened, an even worse outcome would have come our way.

They have already decided how things would have turned out, if the actual course of events had somehow been derailed. Some believe, for example, that Hitler would have conquered the whole world and we all would have become slaves of the Nazis.

Well, we don’t know that. That particular alternative history is no more reliable than any other. The difference is that the “good war” proponents got in first with their “even-worse-without-it” argument, and they have stuck to their guns.

Perhaps, in the end, we can all agree on one thing: that the war in and of itself was a terrible thing, maybe the worst in history. Let’s try to stop anything like it from happening again.

On one point I disagree with Buchanan. His book is subtitled, in part, “How Britain Lost Its Empire.” But surely it was doomed anyway? The unmitigated disaster of World War I already saw to that. As Buchanan asks, at the end of his account of Versailles: “How could British and Europeans, who had just concluded four years of butchering one another with abandon, assert a moral superiority that gave them the right to rule other people?”

They couldn’t. It was over for the British and the other empires. Even the short-lived Soviet version fell. And notice that that evil empire was a product of World War II--the not-so-good war.

...does not require indulgence of another's patently inane counterfactual. There weren't even enough Nazis to take all of France or the USSR nor any of England and Spain--the notion they'd have had the manpower to administer the entire world is idiocy.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at December 30, 2008 1:35 PM
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